World War I in Colour: the Definitive Illustrated History With Over 200 Remarkable Full Colourphotographs|
by Charles Messenger
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|A Review of: World War I In Colour: The Definitive Illustrated History With Over 200 Remarkable Full Colour Photographs
by James Roots
Britain's Nugus/Martin Productions set out to upend the perception
that the Great War was fought in black and white by using digital
scans to colourize about five and a half hours' worth of surviving
movie footage. They then isolated 200 frames from the results and
wrapped them around a serviceable text by Charles Messenger to
produce World War One In Colour.
While the technology has made some advances since Ted Turner performed
colourized sacrilege on classic Hollywood movies some twenty years
ago, it remains an awfully long way from producing something more
than the mere illusion of real colour.
The photos in World War One In Colour are mostly a muddy green and
brown, mixed in with overly-strong blues. Naval pictures make the
sea look terrific, but unless the ships were grey in reality, they
look as though the colour was shakily hand-inked onto nitrate. The
blues of the sailor uniforms overwhelm their surroundings, exacerbating
the lack of balance in the tints.
The best effects show up the mud of the battlegrounds and trenches,
but when the colourizing process itself bleeds heavily into brown
and green shades, it would be a wonder if the mud didn't end up
The process is not helped by the very poor focussing of the photos.
The original footage was seldom in sharp focus; digitizing it and
painting it in a computer only emphasizes the blurred edges and
soft subjects that result from a single frame-capture.
The argument of Nugus/Martin Productions is that the "colour
images give an intimacy and immediacy to those distant horrific
events." Is that what we want or need? Page 33 shows a tiny
boy saluting in the perfectly-tailored uniform of the German Army;
does the colourizing of this appalling image give it more impact
or less? Doesn't it make him more cute and endearing, rather than
There is one small section where, perhaps, the colourizing does
have an unexpected benefit. Chapter 1 is full of 1914 photos of
chuckling volunteers, recruitment rallies, the war leaders enjoying
social events, fresh troops marching to the front with huge carefree
grins on their faces. Colouring these scenes helps us appreciate
the truth of the clich that everyone thought the war was going to
be a six-month lark, a Boys' Own Adventure.
It was an innocence they were to lose very soon, and that the world
has never yet recovered. Nor ever will.